By Ben Brewster
WILLMAR -- Mitch Rowan hit a game-tying single with a 10-pitch at bat with two outs in the ninth inning to keep the Stingers alive as Willmar beat St. Cloud 5-4 on Tuesday at Bill Taunton Stadium.
The Stingers gained half a game on second-half leader Alexandria in the Northwoods League North Division and improved their record to 20-13, four games behind the Beetles.
One batter later, Eduardo Gonzalez hit a walk-off single to score Rowan from second base and give the Stingers their third win in a row.
Pinch-hitter Jarid Scarafiotti started the rally with a one-out single. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and took third on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Jake Stinnett. That brought up Rowan, whose 10-pitch battle with River Bats' pitcher Keenan Kolinsky included five straight foul balls.
"I was just trying to battle and get a pitch I could handle," Rowan said. "Ever since I got put in the leadoff spot I like to take a lot of pitches and battle with two strikes."
Stingers' manager Matt Hollod said it was a huge at bat.
"That's the kind of stuff he's been doing the past month and a half of the season," Hollod said. "He's been outstanding for us."
Rowan advanced to second on an error by the third baseman on Jason Leblebijian's ground ball. That brought up Gonzalez, who hit a sharp single to center to bring Rowan home just ahead of the throw.
The Stingers led 3-2 in the eighth inning when St. Cloud's Carlos Lopez led off the inning with a single. That brought up the River Bats' cleanup hitter, second baseman Bryan Haar, who crushed a two-run home run to deep left field off Ricky Knapp to give St. Cloud the 4-3 lead.
Willmar first got on the board in the fifth inning with a two-run double by Leblebijian. Blake Shepherd led off the inning with a single, but after Anthony Bemboom and Garrett Borba recorded outs, it looked like the River Bats might escape the inning unscathed. That brought up Rowan, who worked a walk to set up Leblebijian's double.
Kolinsky took the loss, giving up two runs in 3-1/3 innings of work. Tanner Banks pitched a scoreless ninth and got the win.
Hollod said it was a special win for the Stingers.
"It was only our second walk-off of the season, and the first one was when our batter got hit," he said. "It's a little different feeling when you come back and get back-to-back base hits and win a game where you're down by a run."
Notes: Former Battle Creek Bomber Dave Sappelt made his Major League debut with the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday. Sappelt played with Battle Creek in 2007 ... New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson will be appearing at a free baseball clinic Aug. 19 at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis as part of the Northwoods League Foundation. Granderson played for Mankato in 2001.